The UK government has set out an ambitious objective to ‘level up’. Much attention is being given to a White Paper on Levelling Up due out this year. But what does levelling up and ‘build back better’ actually mean and how will it be achieved in Leicester, particularly against a back drop of COVID-19 and Brexit. The following map illustrates the stark inequalities in England with deprivation (darker shades) largely concentrated in the cities and towns of the Midlands and North.
Many voices are calling for greater devolution of paper to enable local informed solutions and expertise, with cities like Leicester leading the way in setting the agenda and giving voice to local communities. This, for instance, is a theme in a Local Government Association Briefing, analysis by the Institute for Government and a report from the Centre for Cities. It was also a theme that came across strongly in a series of podcasts produced by Leicester Stories on the topic of Build Back Better.
The podcasts provide a fantastic insight into the views and opinions of people in Leicester in terms of how the city can Build Back Better. The conversations touch on the ‘big social problems’ but also on different ways of approaching the problem. For instance, Kieran Breen says:
I think there are the issues that we need to tackle, child poverty is one, I think child poverty just feeds into everything else, you know. Poor children end up doing badly at school, children doing badly at school have more of a tendency to break the law, you know. But in addition to that, I really have a lot of faith in the ability of every-day people to come up with common sense solutions, and I would love to see deliberative democracy growing across our city and county, and by that, that’s a rather fancy terms for saying everyday people, getting involved, being asked, being involved, encouraged and supported to make decisions about their community. And where we have money, rather than people in small rooms deciding that we are going to make this a better city by building a hotel or a bridge, or whatever, we actually say to people, how could we make your community better, how do you want this money spent? And I think people quite often have got the answers to those questions.
There was also much appeal to the win-win outcome of a sustainable recovery. Ben Lowe says,
[T]here’s this concept of the idea of a green recovery, which is the idea that you, the government, and this is something that apply not just the UK, but as a concept for any, any place, any government, to basically invest strategically, to deal with the economic problems that the pandemic created, and also at the same time deal with the environmental, the climate … crisis, the biodiversity crisis that we’ve got at the same time. So you sort of basically killing two birds with one stone, and that’s what we, that’s what Greenpeace and many environmentalists would recommend, is a green recovery.
You can listen to the podcasts and get the full transcripts on the Leicester Stories webpage.